YOU might not think much connects the Lescar Hotel in Hunters Bar, Sheffield, with The Engineer, a trendy, luvvies gastro pub in London’s Primrose Hill.
Yet there are similarities.
Both were solid, brick built Victorian hostelries (the Lescar dates from the 1880s) with a beer garden and a fiercely loyal clientele devoted to licensees who had bought a lease from pubco giants Mitchells & Butlers.
Then M&B took the pubs back.
At both there were protests, although the Primrose Hill affair was rather more high-powered.
There the on-line petition had over 3,000 signatures including actors Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Pryce, Miranda Richardson and Channel 4’s Jon Snow.
Over on Sharrow Vale Road there were no starry names on the bar top petition and just a half-hearted Facebook page which warned darkly the place would be overrun by “wine poofs.”
At both there was the same result: M&B won.
Not even the weight of Christopher Biggins could save The Engineer.
The Lescar’s fight was in 2007 (it’s only just happened at Primrose Hill) but the Sheffield pub got its refurbishment only a few months ago. So what’s it like now?
M&B, with a clutch of brands including Vintage Inns, Harvester, Ember, Toby, O’Neill’s, All Bar One and Browns – some 1,600 premises in all – is big on food, so the Lescar is now branded tweely as a “traditional alehouse and kitchen.”
It’s traditional, all right, with two rooms, a central bar, wooden floors, comfy leather banquettes and an entertainments room, home to the Last Laugh comedy club.
How you describe the regulars depends on your point of view. The Lescar’s supporters talk of an eclectic mix of students, teachers, social workers, the odd journalist and an occasional judge.
Its detractors sneer at “men with beards (and daft hair), middle aged women who think they’re cool because they’re in the Lescar,” arty types and shady types.
It was certainly true there were times when exotic smells would waft around the beer garden and people would conduct furtive business in corners.
M&B has given the exterior a lick of paint. There’s a new lawn out front with tables and fairylights in the trees. Inside, despite fears, the décor has been little touched.
M&B has kept its word that it would not change the “individual character of the pub.” Its bookshelves are still there although there are fewer books and the copy of Selections from Sir Thomas Urquart of Cromarty has been filched.
Walls are now painted in a light colour. “They used to be black and on a dull day it was like drinking in a funeral parlour,” says Tim, a regular.
On our night, a Wednesday, the place was full and it was difficult to find a seat. The trade was mainly students, young professionals and Tim. He sips his pint and says the Lescar’s people are the same.
The comedy club is still there, as well as jazz and poetry nights. Only the other week there was a gay wedding reception. Him and him wore pink.
The menu at the Lescar is the same as at the Adelphi Hotel in Leeds or the Fighting Cocks in Birmingham, also in the Metro Professionals brand. So there is a central kitchen behind the menu.
We start with soup of the day (£4), although it was hard to tell it was leek and potato, with some dryish bread and butter, and a rather good Kilner jar of potted mackerel (£5), helped along with judicious use of horseradish.
Main courses include sausage and mash, fish and chips, a couple of burgers, roast duck and a couple of specials, pork belly on bubble and half a roast chicken.
I go for the ox cheek pie (£9.50), a tender stew of meat cooked in red wine under one of those puff pastry lids.
It’s OK but the residual taste is faintly industrial.
My wife’s fig, goat’s cheese, pecan and roasted squash tart (£9) cannot fail to be interesting but I like it more than her.
“It is so sweet I could have had it for pudding,” she says. Vegetables are lacking so she shares my potato and colcannon to mop up the odd, pink gravy with this dish.
She’s happier with her dessert, a chocolate and beetroot brownie with ice cream (£4.50), the vegetable adding sweetness and a pleasantly soft texture. It’s not such a novelty – think carrot cake.
My apple and rhubarb crumble is brought to the table with a warning: “I have got to warn you, the crumble could be hotter than the sun.”
The surface of the ginger and cinnamon topping resembles the surface of the moon. “Or pebbledash,” says Tim, observing the size of the lumps.
We have paid £36.50 for food and ordered a couple of halves each from a good slate of real ales, including Abbeydale’s Moonshine (£3 a pint) and Sharp’s Doom Bar (£2.90 a pint).
When I check more closely the following day I see I’ve been mistakenly charged for a pint and a half of each, making the total £45.35.
303 Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield S11 8ZF.
Tel: 0114 266 8974.
Open Sunday-Thursday noon-midnight, Friday and Saturday until 1am. Real ales. Vegetarian dishes. Credit cards. Disabled access and toilets. Street parking.
My star ratings (out of five):